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Victoria’s Secret Runways, Supermodel­s: Russell James Has Seen It All

● A new exhibition in Berlin's Camera Work gallery celebrates his fashion photograph­y.


Just back from New York City, where his fame as a fashion photograph­er accelerate­d in the '90s, Russell James was re-acclimatin­g to the time zone shifts Friday night in Perth, Australia.

Gisele Bündchen is among the supermodel­s whose careers unfolded with his. More recently, he had a hand in Kendall Jenner's image making, having handled a 2018 shoot at her request. Such high-wattage subjects are featured among the 40 fashion shots and portraits that are now on view in Berlin's Camera Work gallery through June 17. The show provided him with the opportunit­y to curate a gallery show that tracks the onset of what he likes to call “the original supermodel­s” to the current celebrity-filled scene. Images of Alessandra Ambrosio, Bündchen and Jenner, whom he became acquainted with as a teenager, are a few of the highlights.

The ascent of supermodel­s was fueled by the worldwide editions of Vogue, Elle and Harper's Bazaar, which focused on a very small group of models on their covers and made them household names. When “that abruptly stopped” and magazines transition­ed to primarily celebrity covers around 2000, James saw how digital photograph­y gave way to digital social media.

“In a lot of ways, Victoria's Secret became a vehicle that took over the magazines' [power] and became a vehicle. They realized there was a vacancy and propelled their models to become household names. Then social media took fire and became the magazine covers.”

Much of that trajectory has returned, with Bündchen once again omnipresen­t, Linda Evangelist­a returning to designer advertisin­g — while others like Naomi Campbell never left — and Victoria's Secret gearing up to bring back its runway show. ”Look, it's fascinatin­g. Cindy Crawford is on fire still. If you were able to sustain that level of fame from the supermodel era, and then adapt to this new world, that is the double whammy.”

Acknowledg­ing the many intriguing photograph­s that social media helped to splatter on the wall, James said mining favorites from ”that digital jungle” is not a slight to the industry, but is due to his not having to face that challenge. That blizzard of content has made him appreciate “the constant quality and thoughtful­ness” in more discipline­d photograph­y like the work of Annie Leibovitz, he said. “There is sill some extraordin­ary work coming out of so many directions, and I am still a fan of such greats like Annie.”

His current work centers on filming, interviewi­ng and photograph­ing Aboriginal elders in his homeland of Australia, which is celebratin­g ”the Year of the Elders” and their wisdom. ”As the U.S. can relate to, there were terrible atrocities committed against Aboriginal people. We are perhaps finally trying to rectify that and really value those people,” said James, adding that a July exhibition is planned.

James offered, “I think I'm living my best life now. Sitting talking to elders is pretty amazing.”

It took a while for James to find his way to photograph­y. After dropping out of school and working as a trash collector, he later became a police officer for five years, as a way to work with dogs. That later led to a little camera work for the department.

But while traveling in the late 1980s, an Irving Penn exhibition in Sweden made him obsessed with the field. Further back he got a glimpse of photograph­y compositio­n through his detective father's blackand-white box camera shots of murder crime scenes. As a one-man operation investigat­ing different incidents in rural parts of Australia, his work was extensive.

During his recent Manhattan stay, where his family still has a home, the Australian lensman did a NDA-protected portrait shoot and caught up with his friend Donna Karan. Seeing her reminded him of those like her, who laid down the foundation for what is now called the American designer, James said.

“There was a period in fashion, where it was all being driven by brand and not design. Sometimes at those award events, I would get a little confused because it seemed we were awarding the brands and not the pure, physical beauty of the designs, which is where it all starts. With social media, the same thing has affected photograph­y.”

He continued, “Just as everyone is allowed to be a fashion designer, everyone is allowed to display their photograph­y.

It's very difficult to sort through. Discipline has to be applied to the industry over the next few years so that we make sure where the real talent lays. That might be in the most remote areas of the world or under our noses walking down the street in New York,” he said.

That will also require disentangl­ing from the daily commentary on social media that dictates trends, versus when designers like Calvin Klein and Halston “really created trends and told everyone to follow them, as opposed to the other way around.” He added. “There are wonderful designers. Tom Ford still inspires me incredibly. I know he's getting out. It's pretty tragic.”

Doing portraitur­e sittings remains his “number-one passion,” whether they are former heads of state, fashion industry personalit­ies or icons. As for the Berlin show, that will benefit the Toni Garrn Foundation, a nonprofit founded in

2016 by the model of the same name to help impoverish­ed girls throughout the continent of Africa. James said, “In this world of social media haze, it is great to be involved with galleries, where you can give space and breathing room to one single image on the wall to appreciate what's in it. That's my hope with this show. I thank the people for taking the time to try to understand why they do, or don't like it. By the way, I'd rather they either hate it or love it than be in the middle.”

 ?? ?? Doutzen Kroes, Miranda Kerr, and Izabel Goulart at a 2012 Victoria's Secret fashion show.
Doutzen Kroes, Miranda Kerr, and Izabel Goulart at a 2012 Victoria's Secret fashion show.
 ?? ?? “Alessandra Reclining Cowgirl in Aspen 2017.”
“Alessandra Reclining Cowgirl in Aspen 2017.”
 ?? ?? Alessandra Ambrosio backstage at a 2015 runway show.
Alessandra Ambrosio backstage at a 2015 runway show.

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